'Nakba Day' protests: What regional leaders said

Protests erupted on Israel’s borders and throughout East Jerusalem and the West Bank on Sunday as Palestinians marked the 63rd anniversary of Israel’s independence, which they refer to as the “nakba,” or catastrophe, because it resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Israel has used the clashes to argue that it does not have a legitimate partner for peace, while Arabs have capitalized on the regional spirit of uprising to press Palestinian claims to statehood. Here is a roundup of notable statements:

Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority president

People take part in a 'Nakba' sit-in protest outside the UN office in Amman, Jordan, on Sunday, May 15. Palestinians mark 'Nakba' or catastrophe on May 15 to commemorate the time when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled or fled from their homes in the war that led to the founding of Israel in 1948. (Ali Jarekji/Reuters)

From Ma’an News Agency:

“Addressing those who were killed, Abbas said the ‘blood of the martyrs slain marking Nakba Day in the homeland and in exile was shed for the sake of the people's freedom. It was not shed in vain.’

‘To all who took part in the activities and events marking Nakba Day, I say to you that you have proved to all that right is stronger than time, and that the will of the people is stronger and more durable than the might of tyrannical forces and occupation,’ he said.”

From The Jerusalem Post:

"After 63 years of expulsion and the occupation of our land, the time has come for Israel to understand that our people have not forgotten and that the opportunity for a historic solution still exists.”

Ismail Haniyeh, leader of Hamas in Gaza

From the Jerusalem Post:

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said in a speech marking “Nakba Day” that the Palestinians would never give up the ‘right of return.’

Haniyeh said that [antigovernment protests sweeping the Arab world] would ‘lead to the collapse of the Zionist project in Palestine and victory for the program of the nation’ ...

He said that the ‘revolutions’ in the Arab world would have a positive impact on the Palestinians and a negative effect on the ‘Zionist entity.’ He also urged the Arabs and Muslims to provide the Palestinians with financial and military aid.

The Hamas leader reiterated his movement’s opposition to recognizing Israel’s right to exist in spite of the reconciliation agreement with Fatah.

‘Victory is coming and so is the state,” he declared. “The refugees will return and occupation will end.’”

From Al Ahram:

"’We firmly condemn this new Zionist crime against our people who were demonstrating peacefully,’ the group, which controls the Gaza Strip and whose leader Khaled Meshaal is based in Damascus, said in a statement.

‘We call on the international community to assume its responsibility in light of the continuous Zionist crimes against our people,’ it said, adding that Sunday's clashes marked a new chapter in the struggle against the ‘Zionist occupation.’”

‘We say to the entire world that the return of the Palestinian refugees to their homeland will remain a central part of the Palestinian question,’ the statement said.”

Israeli government

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, from the Jerusalem Post:

"The state was founded 63 years ago on the basis of the declaration of independence which promises equality of rights for all of our citizens regardless of religion, race and sex,’ Netanyahu said.

He added: ‘When one looks at the region today, Israeli Arabs are the only Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa that enjoy democratic rights, equality and civil rights.’

‘I regret that there are extremists among Israeli Arabs and in neighboring countries who have turned the day on which the State of Israel was established, the day on which the Israeli democracy was established, into a day of incitement, violence and rage.’

‘There is no place for that,’ the prime minister said.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, from Haaretz:

"’The IDF must protect the sovereignty of Israel and it succeeded in doing so,’ Barak said [in defense of Israeli troops who clashed with protesters].

… Barak also warned that ‘we are just at the start of this matter and it could be that we'll face far more complex challenges.’

Barak said that IDF soldiers acted with restraint and discretion and only opened fire at the legs of protesters when other crowd dispersal methods proved insufficient.”

IDF spokesman, from Haaretz:

"We are seeing here an Iranian provocation, on both the Syrian and the Lebanese frontiers, to try to exploit the Nakba day commemorations.”

Senior Israeli government official, from Haaretz:

"This appears to be a cynical and transparent act by the Syrian leadership to deliberately create a crisis on the border so as to distract attention from the very real problems that regime is facing at home.”

Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah

From The Daily Star:

"’We must bow before the courage, the valor, of those who protested yesterday at Lebanon and Syria’s borders with occupied Palestine, who faced the tyranny of the enemy with bare chests and their heads held high,’ Nasrallah said.

‘You have proven to both friend and foe [alike] that commitment to your rights is non-negotiable, won’t be forgotten and won’t be wasted, and that your return to your homes, your land and holy places are your right and goal,’ he added.

‘Your message is loud and clear to the enemy that you are determined to liberate the land no matter what the sacrifices [might be] and that the fate of this entity [Israel] is demise, and that no initiatives, treaties or borders will protect it,’ Nasrallah said, adding that the return of Palestinians refugees was ‘closer than any time before.’"

United States

From Agence France-Presse:
"’We regret the loss of life and our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of those killed and wounded,’ [White House] spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard President Barack Obama's official Air Force One airplane.
Israel like all countries has the right to prevent unauthorized crossings at its borders. Its neighbors have a responsibility to prevent such activity. We would urge maximum restraint on all sides,’ said Carney.”
From Haaretz:
“Carney called Syria's behavior unacceptable and said the unrest was intended to draw attention from the Syrian government's violent crackdown on its own people who are pushing for reforms.”